By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, Matthew Fox, James Badge Dale, and Ludi Boeken
I should have known better. Coming into this weekend’s much anticipated release of Brad Pitt’s new action/thriller World War Z, many articles in both newspapers and web sites (this one included) were predicting its doom. With a constantly skyrocketing $200 million budget, an ending that was touched up by many a script doctor (including Damon Lindeloff and Drew Goddard) and various tales of film crew rotation, World War Z had the makings of a film that was going to meet its end faster than the scent of frosting in a cake factory when a stink bomb is thrown. Not since Titanic has a film had so many reported pre, post, and every kind of production problem in between. Well, Pitt (who produced the film) may not be smiling as wide as James Cameron when all the dust surrounding World War Z has settled. But, one thing is for sure: he and director Marc Foster (Quantam of Solace) have made a very entertaining movie. Combining zombie terror with adventurous fun, World War Z is the type of film that you probably won’t remember a day after watching, but its no nonsense thrills are guaranteed to entertain you in the two hours you spend with it.
The film is (VERY) loosely based on a popular novel from 2006 by Max Brooks (son of Mel) that tells of a zombie apocalypse from lots of different angles. Just to tell you how far the film deviates from its source material, Pitt’s character, former member of the UN Gerry Lane, is not even in the book. But, even as a fan of the book, I myself did not care. Because Pitt’s presence as the character did wonders in carrying World War Z. And it felt to me like it could have been an extra chapter in the book. The film’s plot, which only takes about twelve minutes to develop before getting the in your face action started, is about Lane, who seems to have built a solid foundation of family at home, as his wife (The Killing’s Enos) and two kids are enjoying what his former life of a UN officer brought them. That is, until news of a zombie apocalypse starts hitting the air waves and Lane must move them out of their home in Philadelphia and in into the wake of safety. Of course, he has to use every one of the career resources he can find in order to do so, and the question of whether he does is one that I was pondering throughout the entire film. This is obviously Pitt trying to build a franchise, but would he do so at the expense of his character? This works in the film’s advantage, and was one of many things that I found quite enjoyable about it.
I enjoyed and respected World War Z for many reasons. One, most films of this type would spend the majority of its running time trying to make sure the president is saved. Not here, as we learn pretty quickly that the president has been killed. That got me thinking: if they would kill the president in this amount of time, then literally no one is safe. I also enjoyed its use of a sub genre that as of late, has been running a bit on the stale side.Zombies used to be an entity of film that would send chills down my spine with each and every appearance. Judged solely on their use from George Romero’s first three zombie films, I would have nightmares about them coming at me or pulling me under the bed. Now, there is not a bit of pop culture that is not ‘infected’ with them. Everything from comedies to video games to even TV has seen them used and ever so slowly, their impact was drilled into the ground. While I am not going to go as far as to say that World War Z reinvents the wheel and makes zombies roam peoples’ nightmares again, I will state that these zombies are pretty impactful. The amount of time it takes to change into one once you’re bit, like the film’s pace, is lightning quick (twelve seconds) and you better be sure that little plot point is also shown in its full impact here. When they swarm, it can be a scary site, as all I think about when this would happen is all the times I have stepped in an ant hill and watch them furiously swarm like black water. There is a new ability I found very well done, which is to create walls using what I can only describe as human building blocks of zombies. This has been hinted at in the trailers, but it is pretty remarkable seeing them carry it out like they do in the film.
Foster has taken a lot of hits over his career about his inability to stage impactful action. And truth be told, World War Z’s action is not its strong point. Where it thrives is in its tension. For example, it was very effective in describing how the various nations around the world have handled the epidemic sweeping their terrain, and shown in ever so brief flashes. It was not, however, good to see certain situations involving the zombies played out. Oh, there is plenty of tension provided by World War Z. But Foster has trouble with how to carry all of it out onscreen. Not a complaint. Just a minor quibble.
I had a blast with World War Z. Maybe it’s the notion of Pitt playing not a super hero in tights saving the world. But a worried father who is pushed into what he has to do for the sake of his family. Or its genuinely fascinating take of what could happen if a situation like this were to happen. Whatever it was, when World War Z was over, I can honestly say it was a movie almost meter full of edge of your seat thrills. It was not a perfect film. Its third act is wrought with unevenness, as it still carries a bit of the production burden brought down upon it. And Enos feels wasted in a role that could have been better thought out. This is an actress playing Brad Pitt’s wife, and she only has maybe five lines. But maybe that would be too cliché. Which World War Z is not.
Sorry Mr. Pitt. I will never doubt you again.